Weekend in Paris: For lovers
Daunted by the city's reputation for passionate romance? Read on to make sure you don't miss any of the amorous hotspots
Honeymoons, anniversaries, dirty weekends, Valentine's trips... Of all the world's capitals, Paris must be the most popular choice for couples wanting to get closer. How can you ensure it doesn't disappoint? By taking a look at our guide to the city's hottest hotspots, from the Marais to your own hotel room. Read on for our advice on how best to experience Paris as a couple, in a couple of days.
Day 1: Coffee, cruises and cava
Place des Vosges
La Maison de Victor Hugo
Le Chardenoux des Prés
Le Chardenoux des prés
© C. Griffoulières - Time Out Paris
Berges sur Seine © C. Griffoulières - Time Out Paris
Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & company
Place des Vosges
9AM If the Nouvelle Vague films of the early ‘60s are any example, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most Parisian couples spend all day in bed, smoking and whimsically asking which parts of their body the other finds the most attractive. But if you’re in the City of Love for a weekend only, and are too eager for sightseeing even to take breakfast in bed, then you should kick things off with a cup of the city’s best coffee at La Caféothèque. This boutique café is located on a picturesque stretch of the Seine’s right bank, which also serves as the southern boundary of the Marais, home to some of the city’s oldest alleyways and most venerable buildings. Having escaped the destructive imprint of Baron Haussmann’s city planning in the 19th century, it boasts the quaintest, most romantic atmosphere of any neighbourhood in Paris – not least for the city’s gay crowd, who have set up shop in the area. It’s an ideal place for strolling; make sure to see the wonderfully harmonious Place des Vosges (home to the engaging Victor Hugo museum). Around the corner, Le Gaigne offers inventive lunches in a cosy modern setting.
2PM Once you’ve sated your appetite, it’s time to wash down your meal with a serving of alphabet soup, courtesy of the weird and wonderful books on sale along the Seine’s left bank. Head back across the Île de la Cité to the Quais de Montebello and Saint-Michel, along which hundreds of booksellers (or ‘bouquinistes’) ply their curiosities: tacky postcards, out-of-print biographies of forgotten characters, encyclopaedias in foreign languages. The focal point of this makeshift market is Shakespeare & Company, an English-language bookshop that’s served as a lodestone for expats since time immemorial.
Follow the riverbank west as far as the Pont Neuf and you enter the stomping ground of boat tour companies. If the thought of a gentle cruise down the Seine floats your boat – and, frankly, it should – you have a wealth of options, all hovering around the €12 mark and tracing roughly the same course around the islands. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf launch from the westernmost tip of the Île de la Cité. Make sure to check online in advance for full tour details and times.
6PM For a dinner of rare delicacy, head south through Saint-Germain to Le Chardenoux des Prés, an old-school bistro that offers a winning combination of vintage décor and innovative French dishes. From here, you’re poised to explore the classily hedonistic charms of Saint-Germain and environs, which take in everything from the beautifully preserved art deco interiors of wine & champers bar La Palette to the faux-speakeasy style of the Prescription Cocktails Club. The area also doubles up as a good base for the weekend, boasting a high concentration of hotels tailored to romantic urges.
Restaurants and bars along the way
Day 2: Anchors, thongs and perfect shopping
9AM There’s a good chance that children – whether they’re waiting for you back home, or remain as yet a mere twinkle in your eye – are on your mind during this trip; so spare a thought for the orphans who once inhabited the site now occupied by the Marché des Enfants Rouges (a reference to their red clothes, which indicated that they’d been donated by a Christian charity). Something of a touristic hotspot, the market nevertheless boasts a spectacular array of cuisines from the world over, and is an invigorating place to start the day.
Once you’ve eaten to your stomach’s content, take a metro over to Pigalle, the seedy gateway to the historic neighbourhood of Montmartre. The nearby Musée de la Vie Romantique, concerned with the Romantic movement rather than romance as such, will detain you for an hour or so; its exhibition on the novelist George Sand is a small joy. If you’re already feeling peckish, the museum’s tree-lined courtyard café should tide you over till dinnertime.
1PM It's now time to begin your exploration of Montmartre. Star of turn-of-the-20th-century art, countless nostalgic Charles Aznavour songs and of course 'Amelie', this unabashedly romantic district is quite literally a high point on any tourist's schedule – it's situated on a towering hill, atop which perches the mock Romano-Byzantine architecture of the Sacré-Coeur church. Though parts (especially around the Sacré-Coeur and Abbesses station) are marred by excessive tourism, it won't be long before you happen upon a steep staircase or narrow alleyway to lead you far from the madding crowd.
4PM As you head back down toward Pigalle, you’ll come face-to-thigh with the sex shops and sleazy bars that have defined the area’s character for over a century. If you’re inspired to do a little sexy shopping of your own, you’d be better off taking a metro back down to Chatelet, home to kinky ‘lovestore’ Passage du Désir. From willy-shaped pasta to edible body paint, something here is bound to tickle your fancy – and we're not just talking the feathery tickler sold in the ‘Petits Bonbons’ range.
8PM The mess of concrete and scaffolding that is Les Halles may not be the most auspicious setting for a romantic repast; but a little hunting will reveal the wonderfully secluded courtyard on which stands Pirouette – a suitably jaunty name for a restaurant that serves up interesting meat dishes with a smile and great panache. The décor is elegant, the wine list ample, and the whole affordable. Which means that you’ll be left with a little extra to splurge on Le Batofar, a large boat anchored to the left bank of the Seine (by the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand) whose interior has been converted into a bar-cum-club. With its temporary beach in summer and sweeping view of the ultra-modern developments of the 13e arrondissement, it’s one of the more unusual (not to mention hipper) of Paris’s watering holes, and perhaps its most picturesque. It’s enough to make you fall hopelessly in love with the City of Love.